REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KRON) — The man accused of murdering seven of his co-workers on two farms in Half Moon Bay broke down in tears in a courtroom on Friday.
Chunli Zhao, 66, sobbed when his Mandarin language court interpreter told him that a San Mateo County judge denied the defense attorney’s request to ban media cameras from the courtroom.
Judge Elizabeth Lee said she doesn’t take the importance of public access to the judicial process lightly. Zhao wiped tears from his face with a tissue.
After denying the camera ban, Judge Lee approved a gag order barring District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe from releasing more details about the case to reporters. His defense attorney told the judge that he is concerned Zhao’s right to a fair trial will be compromised if the jury pool is tainted.
Zhao is accused of committing the worst mass shooting in San Mateo County’s history. He is charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Seven Hispanic and Asian farmworkers were fatally shot on January 23 at California Terra Gardens and Concord Farms. An eighth victim survived.
Sheriff Christina Corpus described the killings as a horrific case of “workplace violence.” Prosecutors said Zhao was “angry at several co-workers over perceived mistreatment.”
An hours-long manhunt around Half Moon Bay ended when deputies spotted Zhao parked next to a sheriff’s substation and tackled him to the ground.
Like many of the victims, Zhao was also a farmworker who lived in a tiny shack at California Terra Gardens. County supervisors said the case exposed “deplorable” living conditions, wages as low as $9 a day, and violence on the farms.
Yetao Bing, one of the seven farmworkers killed in January’s mass shooting, survived a separate shooting last summer. Bing “was the first one at the greenhouse every morning, and the last one to leave. He had the respect of everyone at the farm,” his friend said.
Zhao gave a jailhouse interview to a Bay Area TV station shortly after he was booked into jail with no bail. During the interview, he allegedly admitted to committing the mass shooting and expressed remorse. Zhao reportedly said he was mistreated and worked long hours on the farms.
Zhao has not entered a plea. His arraignment is scheduled for February 16 in Courtroom K2 of the San Mateo County Hall of Justice.